Four months ago I broke my collarbone in a cycling accident.

I know, I know. Cycling can be dangerous.

But crashes are part of the sport. (See my November 20, 2011, column.)

After consulting with an ortho specialist, I opted for no surgery. But five weeks into the healing, the bone had not cooperated.

"See you tomorrow morning in surgery," said the doctor.

That was more than two months ago and several weeks of physical therapy sessions, I feel much better, thank you.

Still I felt I needed additional help to heal the collarbone.

Thursday I visited Patty Giblin, owner of Botanica Yansan on South 12th Avenue. She's a herbalist and healer. In my Chicano culture, Giblin, who grew up near Nogales, Sonora, is a curandera.

"You need to use arnica," she advised me. Arnica, a natural anti-inflammatory herb, can be taken in capsule form or applied as a salve. It also can be consumed as a tea.

"It is good for the soul," she said about the tea.

In many cultures going to a herbalist or curandera is normal. I grew up in a world with doctors but also with wise Latinas who used ancient methods and herbs.

As a kid, I recall my father coming home after a visit with a barrio herbalist. He had with him a container of strange smelling water. He soaked a towel and wrapped it around a sore arm.

It was water with marijuana.

"There are trees and plants to cure everything," Giblin said, adding that her Yaqui grandfather taught her about medicinal herbs.

Most of the world still relies on plants and plant knowledge for healing remedies, says Patrisia Gonzales, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona's Mexican-American Studies Department.

Since plants are the basis for most modern pharmaceuticals, "its makes a lot of sense to go back to what's always been with us," said Gonzales, author of the recently published book, "Red Medicine: Traditional Indigenous Rites of Birthing and Healing" on UA Press.

Traditional medicine and practices are derived from centuries of accumulation of knowledge, said Gonzales, a herbalist who traces her roots to indigenous Kickapoo, Commanche and Macehual peoples.

In some Asian and African countries, up to 80 percent of the population depends on traditional medicine and practices, according to the World Health Organization.

Even in developed countries, some 70 to 80 percent of people have used some form of traditional or alternative medical practice, according to the organization.

In this country, Gonzales said European colonizers brought with them their medicinal plants and practices, and integrated them with those found among indigenous communities.

"The Europeans were fascinated with the knowledge of native plants," she said. Later, early American doctors administered natural herbs and practices, Gonzales added.

Today more doctors recognize the need for integrative medicine, she said.

"The general literacy of plant knowledge has grown across the country," said Gonzales.

At the botanica, Giblin said her clients are culturally diverse. Her clients go to her for herbs, herbal supplements, oils and teas. She also sells religious items and talismans, candles and cleansing waters.

Customers with stomach problems ask for epazote, sometimes called Jesuit's tea. Yerbanis, or Mexican Marigold mint, is used to overcome colds.

And when I return to cycling, I'll need some damiana tea to treat my nervousness.

Ernesto Portillo Jr. is editor of La Estrella de Tucsón. Contact him at or 573-4187.